You can’t run fast when tied to a dead faith

Pastor Jeff Struecker

I wrestled with this passage this week, not because I didn’t understand what was going on. Sometimes I get to a passage of scripture, and as a preacher, I think to myself, man, I don’t want to talk about this, this week. I want to focus my attention on Jesus, and I wish I were one of those pastors who could open up the Bible and then preach whatever I wanted after reading from the Bible, but I’m just not that kind of guy.

So we’re going to tackle a group of people in the Bible who miss it by a mile. Before we even get into the scriptures, I’ll tell you where we will go with this as Christians. The whole purpose that God has left us here on planet Earth after he brought us out of our sin and called us his son or daughter. Our real goal in life is to live our lives like Jesus.

We live in a world that is not pushing us towards Jesus, and it’s pulling us away from Jesus, which means we have to work at our faith. We have to work hard to run after Jesus. That’s the concept that I want you to hear today.

From the Bible today, you will see that it’s impossible to run fast after Jesus if you are tied to dead religion and dead faith. You’re going to see some guys in the Bible, and it’s just undeniable from this passage of scripture that these guys miss by a mile who’s standing right in front of them, and I believe one of the reasons that they miss it is because they’re tied to this dead works-based religion. This dead faith is holding them back, and I don’t want that to be us.

There are three things that the Bible will describe today about these guys that they’re holding onto, that prevent them from running fast after Jesus, but maybe these three things, aren’t you?

Here’s the truth. It could be anything that gets in between you and Jesus. It doesn’t even have to be bad, maybe it’s a good thing. Perhaps you’re chasing after something significant in your life. Perhaps it’s a job promotion, a relationship, or a God-given gift like food, sleep, or sex. But if you’re not careful, you can put that thing in front of Jesus, and it’s going to become an obstacle to your faith.

Suffering teaches us 1 powerful lesson about King Jesus!

These guys today put a few things in front of Jesus, which is why they miss it by a mile. So I’m going to show you these three areas where these religious leaders are tied to a dead faith; literally, they have a dead soul, and there is something in between them and Jesus.

Don’t put religion before Jesus

I am one of the most anti-religious people you will ever meet because we can turn a dead religion into a set of rules that we hope will get us into heaven. These guys put religion before a relationship with Jesus, it’s subtle, and it’s really easy to do.

 

And if you’re not careful, you will try to follow the rules hoping that the rules will make God happy with you. Hoping that if my good outweighs my bad, maybe God will let me into heaven. That is a lie straight from hell.

  

Dead religion will cause you to spend eternity separated from him. In John chapter 11, starting in verse 45, Jesus performs a miracle and calls a dead man out of the tomb alive.

 

He did the same miracle for me at 13 years old when he called this dead soul back to life and called me to himself. And if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, he has done the same thing for you that he did for a guy by Lazarus in John chapter 11.

 

Here’s how the story continues. Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what Jesus did, believed in him. Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus. Jesus deliberately dragged his feet and took too long when they told Jesus, my brother is sick, and Jesus shows up four days after he’s dead. He calls Lazarus out of the grave, and before he even does it, Jesus says, I waited so that God could be glorified and so that you could believe in who’s standing in your midst.

John 11: 45-48 

Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what he did believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs? If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

The Bible tells us that when people saw Lazarus standing in the grocery store checkout line and knew that he was dead just a few days ago, it was pretty apparent that this guy, Jesus, is who he claims to be. And so they believed in him, some of them, but not all of them. In fact, we have to deal with two categories of people right now.

 

Some believed, and they recognized Jesus as savior, and then some snitched on Jesus. And if you’ve been around our part of the United States, you probably know the rest of this phrase. What happens to snitches? Snitches, get stitches.

 

But some of them went to the Pharisees and snitched on Jesus. They told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin.

 

2000 years ago in ancient Israel, these were the big boys in town, and this is the very rare occasion when all of the big boys in town get together in the same room for a very important reason. Generally, the Pharisees, the high priest, the most religious and most powerful men in the land come together in a giant council meeting. That council meeting is referred to as the Sanhedrin. It’s a little bit like the United States Supreme Court and the Congress and the president all meeting together to deliberate about something and come up with an answer.

 

When Jesus raised Lazarus, these snitches went and told the Pharisees. They called the Sanhedrin together and said boys, we got a problem.

 

They convene the Sanhedrin, and we’re saying, what are we going to do since this man is doing many signs. If we let him go on like this. Everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. 

 

John uses a very specific word here when he says signs (now translated as miracles). And I’m sitting there looking at what these guys are saying right now; they’re not asking a question. It’s rhetorical. They’re basically saying that everybody has seen these miracles and the miracles inevitably point to Jesus being the messiah, and now we, the religious leaders, have a problem.

 

 John intentionally uses the word sign on purpose here because, for John, the miracles that Jesus does are a sign that he is the son of God. And when I read this part of the Bible, I’m thinking, are you insane?

  

You’ve seen the sign of healing a crippled man, the sign of healing a blind man, you’ve seen the sign of bringing a man back from the dead, and you still can’t recognize that those are signs that he is the son of God.

 

How could you possibly miss it that much? And the truth is, these guys have a dead soul and hang on to a dead religion.

 

You see, there’s a very fine line between sinners and saints. And what you’re reading in John chapter nine is the guys who walk around town acting like saints, are sinners, and the people around town who everybody thinks they’re sinners, are saints.

 

The difference is all a soul that has been made alive by Jesus Christ and only by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s what separates the sinner from saints in John Chapter 11.

 

It’s not your place in society, it’s certainly not what you know and the good religious deeds that you do, it is all 100% miracle of the living God who turned this dead soul, made it alive, and called this sinner to become a saint.

 

And I say that because as believers, you and I should have this passionate desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to want to see more sinners become saints.

 

We’re placing a challenge in front of everybody in 2 Cities Church. Will you invite one person who was really far from Jesus? Will you invite them to get plugged in with you this Easter? Will you ask them to join you in your life group? Because Jesus is all about leading the 99 and going after the one who is far away from him. 2 Cities Church take up the same challenge and go after that guy or gal that’s religious but far from Jesus and invite them to get part of your life group or get connected with this church. 

Don’t put respect before Jesus

The second thing you’ll see from this passage is why they’re holding on to their power and position so much. What I say next may hurt a couple of people’s feelings. It’s not on purpose, but I need you to know that sometimes even Christians can elevate our respect and position in society above our relationship with Jesus.

 

We’re doing the exact same thing that these Pharisees and religious leaders did when they elevated their position in society above Jesus. In verse 49, one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them. You know, nothing at all. Basically, you guys are a bunch of morons. Are you sure you’re not considering that it is to your advantage?

 

Notice the word right here. It’s intentional. To your advantage, one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish. I feel like I need to explain for just a second who Caiaphas is, and then I’ll explain to you what he’s saying. Caiaphas is the equivalent of the President of the United States.

 

If we lived in an occupied country, he would be the high priest, the one anointed by God to lead the nation spiritually. And because he’s a high priest, he’s now going to stand up during the Sanhedrin, and he’s going to make an approach, a proclamation for all of the religious guys in the room and his proclamation literally translated says Jesus, not only should die, but Jesus will die for the nations, but notice, he doesn’t just say the people living in Jerusalem right now, he says the nations, all of the people of God scattered all over the planet.

 

Listen to what the Bible says next. He did not say this on his own, but being a high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation and not the nation only, but also to untie the scattered Children of God.

John 11: 49-54

One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to unite the scattered children of God. So from that day on they plotted to kill him. Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews but departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and he stayed there with the disciples. 

I love the word untie because of the way that it fits with this sentence. God’s children are scattered all over the planet. We got to get rid of him, or else we’re going to lose respect, and we’re going to lose power. So from that day on, they plotted to kill him. Jesus, therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but he departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness.

 

Most people believe, I tend to agree that the holy spirit of God is speaking through Caiaphas, even though this man is probably wicked at the heart. The holy spirit is speaking and making a prophecy and the prophecy is for all of the religious leaders in the room. Not only should Jesus die, but he will die, and his death is for the nations.

 

When farmers in Jesus’s day went out into a field, they didn’t have the equipment that we have today. So they turned the ground up, and they scattered seed all over the field, and they were hoping and praying that when God sends the rain and the seed goes into the ground, the seed would die, and out of it would come a crop, that’s the word scattered that John just used. When they scattered the wheat fields, and it was time to bring the crop in, they would get the wheat together in bundles, and they would tie those bundles up, making it easier to carry the bundles into the barn where they could turn that wheat into flour.

 

What John is saying is that God has scattered his people all over the nations, and Jesus is going to bring them in. He’s going to untie them and set them free. He will set them free from their sin and free them from their past. He will set them free from that dead religion and all of those things that are holding onto their heart.

 

You see, God has scattered his people to be all over the planet, and he’s left his church here on earth to get them, bring them in, and set them free. And when you see that video playing at the beginning of our service that shows our core values, you must understand that 2 Cities Church is passionate about living free. And when we say live free, we mean living free from dead religious rules of saying do this and don’t do that. If you’re going to be a good girl or want God to call you a good boy, those rules don’t get you into heaven.

 

Now we believe that God has called us into a relationship with him, and Jesus has untied us from those dead religious rules.

 

Prepare yourself because this may hurt anybody in the room. We’re at home seeing the documentary called the social dilemma. If you’ve seen the documentary social dilemma. In that case, it describes what social media is doing to the world, and some of the originators of the social media platforms are taking a step back and saying, “We never expected this to happen; we didn’t want this to happen, this is not what we built.”

  

It shows how social media is distorting and, in some cases hurting society at a big level. What social media is doing is just putting on display what’s already happening inside the human heart.

 

The social dilemma is saying that the engineers who created these platforms didn’t make them do what they’re doing. The sin and the struggle in our heart did this and I’m now talking about the Christian who spends more time worrying about the people on social media and what they think about them than worried about the glory of God. I’m talking about the guy or the gal who spends more time concerned about the grade my professor gave me or what my boss thinks about me. It’s not that you shouldn’t work hard in school, it’s not that you shouldn’t do your best for your boss. But I’m talking about turning those things into a false god. They become an idol when they are more important to you than the glory of God and your relationship with Jesus.

  

Sin has twisted my heart so much that I can even take a good thing like respect and elevate it into the ultimate thing. And I care more about what people think about me on the internet than what they think about Jesus. And when I’ve done that, I’ve just created an idol, and I’ve just started following in the footsteps of these religious leaders.

 

I don’t know if this is only me, but maybe you feel this struggle too, and I’m asking the Holy Spirit to help me put these things back in their proper place because nothing and no one should be more important to me than what the rest of the world thinks about Jesus, my king.

Don’t put ritual before Jesus

As we end John Chapter 11, these guys started to elevate religious rituals, and the rituals became more critical than the very reason for those rituals in the first place.

 

Now, the Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before Passover. Because in Jesus’s day during Passover time, you were obligated to stop what you were doing and make a spiritual pilgrimage to the capital city of Jerusalem before you could take the Passover meal.

 

Before you could do the Last Supper, you had to purify yourself ceremonially, and people were coming to Jerusalem. They were making the pilgrimage. They were purifying themselves, and the Jewish leaders will use this as the perfect opportunity to seize Jesus, arrest him and kill him.

John 11: 55-57

Now the Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover. They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? He won’t come to the festival, will he?” The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should report it so that they could arrest him.

And now we see how the Jewish leaders distort this ritual and turn it into a very bad thing. The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should report it to them so that they could arrest him and they could kill Jesus.

 

 They used the crowd as an opportunity to put out an all-points bulletin for Jesus. If you see him immediately, tell us so that we can send the police to arrest him because we need to get rid of this guy who can heal the crippled, who can return site from to the blind, who can make the dead come back to life. We got to get rid of this guy because he’s ruining our religion.

 

One of Jesus’s people decides I can get rich, selling out my boss and turning over the son of God and betraying him to the religious leaders. This dead religion doesn’t have to be a dead religious ritual, but they use this religious ritual as an opportunity to twist the hearts and the minds of God’s people.

 

Maybe today, someone says, I got a dead soul, and I can’t fix it. I can’t be good enough. I can’t be religious enough to pray or read my Bible enough to make my soul come alive. I need Jesus to call this dead soul to life again. Maybe you need God to do the same miracle that He did for me, that He did for Lazarus, and give you a new life.